Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Example of Owei Lakemfa

The news caught me in the web of the post-okada-ban heavy Lagos traffic jam: Owei Lakemfa has been elected the Secretary-General of the Organization of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU). I quickly eased myself out of the traffic logjam to have a cool celebration in the nearby watering-hole. As a coalition of trade union movements in various African countries with its headquarters in Accra, Ghana, OATUU could not have boasted of a better champion than Owei Lakemfa who was elected into office on Friday, December 7, in Algiers, Algeria.
Journalist, trade unionist, human rights activist, author, Labour historian, and revolutionary, Owei Lakemfa through the epochal feat thus succeeds the founding president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the legendary Alhaji Hassan Sunmonu as the OATUU helmsman. Owei’s election at the 10th Congress of OATUU under the presidency of Professor Ibrahim Ghandur of Sudan alongside 12 other officers is for the initial four-year tenure. Some 43 African countries took part in the congress that lasted from December 1 to 7 with the theme: "Pan-Africanism and Africa's Socio-Economic Development."
Owei, in his acceptance speech, said: "We are committed to the unity and solidarity of workers in the continent; this will require discouraging further fragmentation of national labour centres, and the encouragement of united actions and unity amongst national labour centres with the ultimate aim of merging them into stronger organisations that can withstand internal and external pressures as well as defend the working people. We also pledge to promote women and youth workers as that is a sure way of building a formidable labour movement in Africa. Another major objective we are committed to is the fast-tracking of Africa's economic integration, increase in inter-African trade and the adoption of basic needs development programmes as alternative to the ruinous neo-liberal economic policies. Also, we will work for the consolidation of people- empowered democracy in Africa. On the international arena, we pledge, in accordance with the OATUU commitment to international co-operation to work assiduously for the unity of the international labour movement. We shall continue in the OATUU principles and traditions of struggling on the side of all oppressed people and nations denied their right to nationhood like the Western Sahara (SADR) and Palestine, or people whose fundamental right to live in peace without harassment as in the case of Cuba. Comrades, apart from soliciting your individual and collective support, we ask that you pray for the success of this new leadership because we will like to be worthy successors to our predecessors."
Owei Lakemfa’s landmark achievements as the pioneer Labour Correspondent of The Guardian, Labour Editor of Vanguard and scribe of the NLC are generally well-known. But for me what stands Owei out is that he earned his plaudits from his formative years. As classmates in the Dramatic Arts Department of the then University of Ife, Owei stood out as a born leader and organizer. He was fearless. Known as “The Bouncing Prefect” in his secondary school days, he carried his leadership and motivating qualities into all he did in all his endeavours.
There is no better analyst of international politics that I know than Owei. An avid reader, he buys all the books and encourages everybody around him to be very hungry for knowledge. He would borrow me a book for one to get abreast of something, and when I deign to return the book he would ask me to keep it as he had bought another copy for himself. In short, when my library got burnt some years ago I found out that many of Owei’s books went down with the inferno especially the book on evolution that helped me to write the novel The Missing Link. Owei has the courage of his convictions such that he could in class tell the lecturer, for instance, that the man’s not exactly teaching what the celebrated Marxist literary critic Raymond Williams wrote in his book!
On a recent visit to Germany, Owei made it a point of duty to visit the grave of the great playwright Bertolt Brecht, as he related to me. We had studied Brecht as our “Special Author” in Ife, only then to find out that the German great wrote too many plays, all of which we were expected to read. Owei alongside all our other classmates decided to confront our Head of Department, Professor Wole Soyinka, with the issue of whether we were studying for a Ph.D or an ordinary first degree. Soyinka tactfully told us to take our war to Dr Yemi Ogunbiyi whom he said was the lecturer to blame for the curriculum overload.
In inter-personal relationships Owei was nonpareil. When I could not fix my accommodation in school he simply asked our friend Deolu Ademoyo that they should join their two beds together to create three spaces. The three of us slept on that large bed for the entire session. It was such fun travelling with Owei from Ife to visit his mum in the Mile Two area of Lagos, a very amiable mother who told us that half of the people milling around in Oshodi were spirits!
A good number of Ife students who wanted to be friends with Owei were somewhat too scared to meet him, believing quite erroneously that he was “too strict”. Even now a lot of people out there are still to get to grips with the personable Owei, a friend and brother who always gladly hands over his salary to me anytime I’m broke, which happens to be always! 
Owei took his destiny in his own hands from very early in life, forming revolutionary friendships with the likes of Dapo Olorunyomi, Femi Falana etc.   His clarity of vision is exemplary. Knowing him, he will deliver as the Secretary-General of OATUU. Africa has found a leader in Owei Lakemfa.           

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tribute to Ashikiwe Adione-Egom: The Motor-Park Economist

Ours was a meeting of minds on the OP-ED pages of The Guardian in the 1980s. He signed off his articles as “Motor-Park Economist” while I signed off my pieces as “Peasant Theatre Director”. I was in wonder why a “motor-park economist” wrote in a language that could only be grasped by only seasoned professors. I did not have to wonder for a long time before we met physically in the same office as pioneer staff of the African Guardian magazine. The man was then known as Ashikiwe Adione-Egom but was later in life addressed as “Pastor Luke” and Peter Alexander Egom. The news-feature magazine African Guardian, with Ted Iwere as editor and Andy Akporugo as editor-in-chief, had in my humble opinion the most distinguished staff ever gathered anywhere, notably Eddie Iroh, Sully Abu, Pini Jason, Greg Obong-Oshotse, Okey Ndibe, Ada Momah, Ngozi Ojidoh, Kingsley Osadolor, Fred Ohwahwa, Joni Akpederi, Emmanuel Aguariavwodo, Stanley Amah, Ola Alakija, Seun Sonoiki, George Ola Davies etc. Of course, Ashikiwe who always wore short knickers to the office stood out. It was inevitable, as arranged by Editor Ted Iwere, that the “motor-park professor” and the “peasant theatre rustic” would somewhat “clash”. Ashikiwe as the head of the economic team had anchored a cover story on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) against the background of falling oil prices that threatened the very existence of Nigeria in the early days of Military President Ibrahim Babangida’s regime in 1986. Ashikiwe’s report was worthy of a professorial dissertation but Editor Iwere felt it could not be understood by the common reader. I was then summoned by the editor to write the cover story in a language that the average magazine reader could get along with. I could not say no, for in the business, the editor’s word is final.
It took me a very long night to get to grips with the meat of Ashikiwe’s offering, before I finally settled down to write the cover story. I refrained from putting my byline on the story so as not to draw the ire of Ashikiwe. When the magazine was published I found out that Editor Iwere had put my name smack as the writer of the cover story. I promptly decided to make myself very scarce from Ashikiwe’s presence. I was indeed very surprised when he eventually caught sight of me and embraced me, advising me that I had a style that suited literary writing which will bode me well in writing novels. He then bought me lunch at the Guardian canteen. He instantly adopted me as his bosom brother, sharing his salary with me, for he had no need for money, as he told me. I had to believe him because he was living in the hotel!
I cannot forget the day Ashikiwe came to the office, not in his trademark shorts, but in this bespoke black suit complete with tie and a red kerchief jutting out of the breast pocket. He was waiting for me, and promptly accosted me.
“You poet, I’ve been waiting for you,” he said, dragging me along. “Follow me, I’m going to propose.”
I followed him to the Guardian canteen but I did not see any lady he was about to propose to. He kept buying drinks until very late in the night without making the announced proposal.
I came back to the office the very next morning only to see Ashikiwe in an even more breathtaking suit with an elegant white lady, a Dane, as his companion. There was no need for words. We had a very silent launch thereafter before he departed with the ever-smiling lady.
Born in Ukala-Okpunor in Oshimili North LGA of Delta State, Ashikiwe saw himself as “a full-blooded Igbo” that runs counter to the identity crisis of some of his Anioma brethren. He was a star student and athlete at Kings College, Lagos. He took his educational pursuit to the esteemed, Downing College of Cambridge University in England where he used to share honours with the British champion and latter-day novelist Jeffery Archer, author of The Prodigal Daughter, in the 100 metres dash.
He left Cambridge University in June 1966, and flew into Lagos after the July 29, 1966 counter-coup in which the Igbo were routinely killed. He was detained for seven months at Ikoyi and Kirikiri prisons from July 18, 1967 to March 14, 1968. He then flew out of Nigeria for Europe on April 18, 1968. He spent 14 years in Denmark and Tanzania, reading and teaching Social Anthropology and Economics. He alongside other pursuits served as an adviser to the Tanzanian Central Bank under the watch of then President Julius Nyerere before returning to Nigeria for good late in 1982.
He quickly built up a solid reputation on the pages of The Guardian when it was set up in 1983 and then became a foundation member of The African Guardian magazine in 1985. He later became the editor-in-chief of Financial Post newspaper and Business in ECOWAS magazine.
A devout Catholic, he had occasion to branch out into Pentecostalism and served as Pastor Luke at the Ibru Centre in Agbarha-Otor. He later returned to Catholicism of course. He became attached to the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos and ran a book publishing concern on the side. He was celebrated as the character Ashiki by his former colleague Okey Ndibe in the novel Arrows of Rain published in the esteemed Heinemann African Writers Series.
He wrote his 2002 book Globalization at the Crossroads: Capitalism or Communalism with the name Luke Adione-Egom while the 2007 book Economic Mind of God bore the name of Peter Alexander Egom. The latter book was dedicated to his grandchildren Laerke, Magnus and Kasper.
He had a liking for living in hotels, and even on his bed at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, Lagos he retained his sense of humour to the very last, telling his friend Tam Fiofori who had come visiting that cancer of the prostrate was unkind to have denied him the God-given ability to walk!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Black Hate in Southern Africa

The Kwerekwere Testament: The Complete Chronicles by Kenneth Chukwuka Madiebo; ArtRelated, Surulere, Lagos, Nigeria; 2011; 401 (pp)   

Let’s just start with a very fundamental definition. “Kwerekwere” is the derogatory term that black South Africans and indeed sundry black Southern Africans use when referring to unwanted foreign blacks especially Nigerians.
            The Kwerekwere Testament: The Complete Chronicles is autobiography-disguised-as-fiction. Its author Kenneth Chukwuka Madiebo is the son of Major-General Alexander Madiebo (rtd), the Nigerian military’s first Artillery Commander and Biafran Army Commander who authored the pivotal book The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafra War. It’s crucial to get the pedigree of the author especially as he earned his degree in veterinary medicine in Nigeria before venturing into Swaziland to sell clothes only to end up in Southern Africa for all of thirteen-and-a-half years! He lays it all bare at the end of the book with these words: “I should know all this, because I was a kwerekwere for thirteen-and-a-half years.”
            In the prologue, it is explained that another alias for a foreign unwanted person other than Kwerekwere is “Ngangawane” but both terms translate to insults such as white South Africans calling the blacks “Kaffir”, or whites generally addressing blacks as “Niggers”. The darker the person’s skin is the worse kwerekwere he becomes such that “even bona fide black South Africans especially from the Venda and Pedi tribes, have been arrested for being too black, with the immigration officials labeling them Zimbabweans.” The xenophobia in South Africa is such that Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka was in 2005 denied entry at South Africa’s Airport for eight hours until Nelson Mandela and his wife Graca Machel had to intervene.
            The protagonist of The Kwerekwere Testament Orakwe flies into Swaziland at noon on December 13, 1994 to sell Nigerian traditional attires in the company of his friend Tony Okereke who had snared him into the profitability of the trade. Tony’s contact in Swaziland, the Tanzanian Mohammed, who had earlier said he would pay cash for the goods ducks out of the deal thus leaving the duo stranded. In his thatch mud habitation in rustic Swaziland a distraught Orakwe ruminates on what his dad had told him: “This is a senseless move you are about to make, son.” He recalls also how his father had advised him back in Nigeria not to undertake an Alsatian puppies’ business that doomed him to bankruptcy. Actually he had in 1993 secured provisional employment in the Drug Enforcement Agency of Nigeria as a dog veterinarian only to be denied and kicked out unceremoniously. It is against this background of graduate unemployment that exporting traditional attires and even snake skins to Swaziland becomes a veritable lure.
            Orakwe resorts to basically hawking the wares with his companion Tony when no big-time buyer could step forward. He desperately had to make a phone call to his Swazi in-laws who had only recently been in his Nigerian hometown of Awka to see their daughter married to his cousin, but no dice was forthcoming. Now trapped and knowing that his plans to be back in Nigeria for the December 1994 celebrations is at best unreasonable, Orakwe decides to survive on the brink with shady characters like Saul Slave-Trade who is involved in human trafficking of the sex trade variety. Orakwe gets the task of travelling into Mozambique to ferry back the prostitute Patricia who had some immigration problems, but comes back empty-handed and unrewarded as the girl Patricia had somehow found her way into Swaziland.
            He meets up with 30-year-old Ndubuisi Akunwata who sold off his two restaurants and transport buses in Aba for the journey to South Africa. Ndubuisi’s friend, Okoroafor Freedom, in South Africa to whose family in Nigeria he had paid $1000 reduces the man to a slave before kicking him out in the cold, but the man from Aba had managed to pilfer his master’s $5,000 with which he runs to Swaziland and back to Aba. Orakwe becomes exposed to the mules on the drug runs to Brazil and Europe such as Chima who gets jailed in England and later in Columbia.
             Orakwe fortuitously makes contact with his classmate Mike Dagogo who had graduated at the top of the class but is now a big Johannesburg baron who advises that he should immediately cross over to South Africa. The crossing to South Africa is done by Osaze “Swaz”, past the dangerous pass at Ermelo and onto Johannesburg. The beauty of the white cities does not hide the ugliness of the black shanties even as Orakwe gets a heroic welcome from Mike Dagogo only to soon learn that everything for the kwerekwere comes down to survival of the fittest on “The Streets”. It’s instructive to note that his lecturer “Dr. Azubuike, who has PhD in veterinary pharmacology from the University of the South-East, sells pinches of cocaine in Berea.”
            Mike Dagogo organizes his procurement of the paper to move around South Africa atop which is printed “Temporary Permit to Prohibited Person”, thanks to Section 42 of the United Nations. His mentor Mike has a shouting match with the white receptionist of their lodgings, Melanie Kruger, over arrears of rent, and she invites the police bursting in on the Nigerians at 4AM. After a thorough search no cocaine is found. Then the Nigerians eventually get thrown out of the 905 Apartment. Mike who earlier would not reduce his bosom classmate Orakwe to hustling drugs on “The Streets” now declares that he is “broke too” such that everybody has to find ways to survive.
            Orakwe goes back to Swaziland when his old friend Tony informs him that a surefire job for a veterinary doctor is there for the taking. The job does not manifest and he tries out the business of the Croydon Diamonds. He does eventually go back to South Africa where he is nearly beaten to death by racist white cops at Jan Visser Square where he had gone to save his acquaintance Romanus. He is charged with dealing in drugs which becomes reduced to illegal possession and, finally, bribery. He is granted bail for 3,000 Rands. He is reduced to starting literally afresh. He then learns that his friend who made him to come South in the first place, Tony Okereke, had got lucky by being handed cocaine sent through a courier company.
            Orakwe makes much money through the forging of documents. In short, he becomes the most artful forger in the land. He indulges in 419 letter-writing, duping the South Korean businessmen Kwon and Kim in league with the tag team of Oga-Yawe and Benita who would eventually cheat him out of the deal. Ogo-Yawe then travels to Nigeria to marry Benita on Easter weekend of 2001, then the couple would travel to Dublin then London only to return to South Africa, broke.
            In the bid to make something of his life after all, Orakwe abandons “The Streets” for admission into the prestigious College of Medicine of the University of the West for a Master’s Degree in Public Health. His troubles do not end as he tangles up with the racist Professor “Asbestos Killer”. The racists attempt to make him not to graduate by not giving him a supervisor. He writes a protest letter to the black vice-chancellor and all hell is let loose. He then graduates in June 2007.
            A remarkable incident in The Kwerekwere Testament is when Orakwe runs into his friend Obi Obiora leading others in the initiation rituals of the Inagba cult where a baby is killed, his heart eaten and he is pounded on a pot with pestles. Orakwe refuses to be a part of it all and ends up killing Obiora with the pestle in self-defence.
            After the killing, Orakwe goes to Durban to stay with his girlfriend Nosipho and then travels to Johannesburg Airport for the travel back to Nigeria with only 20 Rands in his pocket. He is nearly prevented at the airport from travelling back on account of his “cack” Study Permit extension. His vigorous protests attract attention until he is allowed to travel at the very final boarding announcement. Orakwe gets picked up at the Lagos airport by his brother Ugonna, the wife Ifeoma and the human rights lawyer Ekundayo in a Toyota Prado 4x4.
            In The Kwerekwere Testament: The Complete Chronicles Kenneth Chukwuka Madiebo has done a great and courageous duty to the unsaid truths beneath our existence. The authorities and the establishment may not like to hear this testament, but it remains a bulwark for the march of civilization. South Africa needs to change its ways. No nation in history has ever made it through insularity and exclusion. Here is a grand historical document that needs to travel.
            However, there are niggling editing errors in regard to punctuation and quotation marks, capitals, and the spelling of names like Mohammed as “Mohamed” in some places etc. All these can of course be tidied up in the next edition.
            All these do not detract from the fact that Kenneth Chukwuka Madiebo poured it all out straight from the heart. It is through such a conviction that the course of history is changed. May his tribe increase!               

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Bushmeat Billionaire

Ichie Ifeanyi Gabriel Adione, popularly known as Ikeotuonye, told me the story of his life: “I was born in 1957 in Oraukwu town, Idemili-North local government of Anambra State. I had my primary education in my hometown before setting off to learn the textile trade in Nnewi. I left Nnewi to Lagos towards the end of 1979 to engage in motor spare parts trading at Idumota market. I got married to Cecilia Azuka Chikodi Adione in 1984 and we were quickly blessed with three children, Tochukwu, Ikenna, Obinna, all boys.  I left the young children in the care of their mother in 1988 and journeyed to Asia, living in Taiwan and China, in search of greener pastures. My wife sold pap, akara, rice and such things in Ikate, Surulere. When I returned from abroad to reunite with my family, it all started as a small scale business in a mechanic workshop in Oduduwa Street, Ikate, Surulere. Later we set up shop in the nearby Onibuore Street before moving to Olusesan Adetula Street, near the famous Kilo Hotel, making good money through selling bushmeat and other local delicacies. We depend on local farmers in Ogun State to supply the bushmeat. I bought a bus for the farmers and built a house for them where they can relax watching satellite television, football, DVD. It is now time for investors to invest in botanical gardens for the growing of grasscutters, otherwise known as bushmeat. Now bushmeat restaurants only depend on hunters in the bush. But if there are grasscutter farms, the yield of bushmeat will be plentiful. I have the patience to wait for the establishment of the grasscutter farms. I don’t like what ends quickly. Since I believe the business will survive the long run, I am thinking ahead to acquire more land and to engage foreign investors. To start crying is difficult. I believe that bushmeat is what I will use to be a man. I am seriously involved in the training of my workers as catering schools happen not to be popular with our people. My company was incorporated as New Deal Foods Ltd and it grew until it gave birth to a sister company known as Fadaland in the FESTAC village, Lagos. The Lekki establishment, along the Lekki-Epe Expressway beside Aja Police Area Command, is now the latest deal. The Lekki place is an international standard restaurant that serves all the dishes. The ground floor is known as the Food Plaza where all the dishes of Fadaland such as bushmeat, nkwobi, isiewu, chicken peppersoup are served alongside Efik delicacies from the kitchen of Mama Calabar. The first floor is reserved for the Chinese restaurant, continental dishes and the coffee bar. The second floor is the place for standard suites made up of eight rooms. All my achievements would not have been possible without the support of my beloved wife, Azuka. From the day I married her, my mother-in-law told me that she’s full of talent, that she inherited her cooking prowess. She started the selling of akara and akamu such that she is still affectionately called ‘Iya Akamu’ by our landlord then and some neighbours. She also sold Jollof rice, akpu, ofe-onugbu and so on. It was because of my success in the food business that my people back home in Oraukwu gathered and chose me to be their representative, the highly regarded Ichie in the traditional ruler Igwe’s cabinet. The big ceremony took place at the Igwe’s Palace on Easter Monday, April 13, 2009. I salute God that my people have love for what I do. My promise to them is to develop the human infrastructure of our place. Four of our sons and daughters will be trained to study Law and Petro-Chemical Engineering on my scholarship from the date of admission to graduation. My motto remains: ‘That my people will see more light.’ The miracle is not that we do this work, but we are happy to do it.”

“Ugba Joint” Family Company

Mrs. Rosanna Ekeogu, the proprietress of UGBA JOINT at Adeshina Street, a stone’s throw from the bustling Ikeja Bus-stop, sat together with her husband, Chief Lambert Ekeogu, to talk to me on the remarkable business she ran with her entire family, before relocating to their hometown in Imo State after training all the children in the universities through the business.  

“I started the business in 1981 with my husband. It was initially situated at Unity Road, Ikeja. We moved to this place, Adeshina Street, in 1996. The name of the business is ‘Stomach Desire’ but you customers changed the name to ‘Ugba Joint’. We started out selling ‘Showboy’, that is ‘Ponmo’ or ‘Kanda’ (Cow-hide). Since we are from the Owerri area, actually Umuokpo-Emeabiam, of Imo State where Ugba (Oil-bean seeds) is the special delicacy people suggested we should add it to the menu. The delicacy became an instant hit with the customers who promptly renamed the company Ugba Joint and told all their friends to patronize us. Some of the people who started patronizing us at the beginning are still coming. We are the first to introduce Ugba to Ikeja people. Unlike all the other joints we have never experienced a robbery. Our problem has always been power supply. We started using generator when others were not using it. At every point in time there must be light here. So we always have chilled beer, and we even have ready supply of ice-blocks. Area boys do not disturb us; it is only when they are fighting themselves along the road that we notice them. Everybody here is safe. Our marriage is blessed with six girls and one boy. All the children know the business, and are involved one way or the other. Four of the girls are married. Onyenachi, the one you people call Bose, had her traditional wedding (Igba Nkwu) on Saturday, November 8, 2008. Her elder sister, Chinwendu (Chi-Chi), had her own in October that year. As you can see, the girls work here once they are home from their various universities. It is through this business that we train all of them. We even have the last daughter, Ifeoma, schooling abroad in Ukraine. No scandal has ever occurred here because the children have proper home training. They know where they come from, and we are disciplinarians. They are disciplined to the core. They are not proud and are happy serving the customers, not minding that they are in institutions of higher learning. As a disciplined family we have no problems from any quarters. We deal with customers with respect and they bring others along. We get daily supplies of the things we cook from Oshodi market or Agege. We are particularly liked because of the low cost of the things we sell. Ugba still goes for N100 for a plate. Nkwobi (Cow-leg) had to be recently moved from N300 to N400 because of the high cost of meat and the other materials needed. Our stockfish, chicken and turkey are sold at the best prices in the Ikeja area. We are training old hands to take over the business and my daughters who are still very much around will make sure that the business continues growing from strength to strength. Any person working for us who is obedient will learn the business. At every time we have no less than six staff. We always put our vacancy advert on a board in front of the shop. When people apply we screen them, asking questions like: Where do you live? Have you done this type of job before? Where? We don’t tolerate stealing and indiscipline. After several warnings the person will be sacked so that others will not follow that type of behaviour. We do outside catering on request. I travelled to London in November for the ‘Omugwo’ (child-weaning) of my daughter Nkechinyere who is married over there, and I have just returned. I will want the government to tackle the electricity problem so that more people can open up businesses and offer employment to people. The insecurity problem should also be tackled. We open business daily at 8 AM and close shop at 10 PM. Right from inception we have been reputably supplied by Nigerian Breweries, Guinness, Coca-Cola etc and they all run their promotions here. Even the big oga, Keith Richards of Guinness, used to come here at night. Everybody loves how we manipulate oil, pepper, salt, magi, and the leaves of utazi which makes our customers not to have stomach pain. When I am not around my daughter Lynda comes to take charge. My son Chukwudi is based in Abuja while the other daughter Chikodi is married to a man in Lagos who works in a newspaper house just like you.”